Enchanted Glass is Diana Wynne Jones’s last published book before her death on March 26, 2011. The novel is a charming young adult standalone in Wynne Jones’s trademark style, beloved by many and unique in British children’s literature. Professor Andrew Hope—he isn’t really a professor; he just happens to work at a university—inherits the old Melstone House and its ornery retinue after the death of Andrew’s grandfather, Jocelyn. Of course, Jocelyn was more than just an old country esquire; he was also the local wizard, and Andrew inherits Jocelyn’s magical field-of-care along with the house. Then Aidan, a clever orphan, shows up on Andrew’s doorstep, and the pair quickly come to realize that there’s more to this whole “field-of-care” thing than meets the eye.
Hilariously quirky characters
This will come to no surprise to long-time readers of Diana Wynne Jones: the characters in Enchanted Glass are delightful. There is Mrs. Stock, the commandeering housekeeper who enforces her opinion on proper living room furniture arrangement by cooking up a dreadful cauliflower cheese each lunchtime. There is also Mr. Stock (no relation to Mrs. Stock—it’s just that kind of town), the grouchy, prize-winning gardener who announces his displeasure by dumping an enormous box of inedible vegetables on the kitchen table each morning. There is also Groil, the gentle giant who eats those vegetables after Andrew hides them on top of the woodshed. My own personal favorite is Stashe, Andrew’s bossy sparkplug of a secretary who prowls the house looking for papers to organize and problems to solve, but becomes a problem of her own when Andrew begins to notice just how attractive she is.
The other characters are no exception, and you’ll have fun meeting each in turn. Andrew’s trials with household management are full of gentle, sparkling humor, which more than offsets this next point:
Not all that much happens
For all the quirky characters and magical mishaps, Enchanted Glass is surprisingly thin on plot. Although Jones obviously and happily did not intend to write a thriller here, the novel is still more a series of discoveries rather than a series of conflicts. The climax, while hilariously slapstick, is barely brought about by Andrew or Aidan. The villains—drawn from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and from older, deeper English mythology—are funnier than they are scary. And for a long while at the beginning, not too much happens other than Andrew and Mrs. Stock waging war over the position of the piano in the living room.
Joyful, breezy writing
Luckily, Jones makes this work. Like I said, the humour is gentle, but occasionally Jones surprises with a wickedly funny joke or adult problem—not enough to be inappropriate for young readers, of course, but adding enough sophistication to make Enchanted Glass a fun read even for an adult. The prose brings the word “rollicking” to mind, and the dialogue is perfect. This is an easy, happy read, and it’s easy to see why it’s great for young readers, but a welcome and refreshing break for older readers, too.
Why should you read this book?
Enchanted Glass is a shining example of why Diana Wynne Jones is a household name for children’s literature. Fun, buoyant, and full of good humor, the story is bound to put anyone in a happy mood, and the witty prose is sharp enough for the most discerning reader. Save this one for a sunny day, find a tree to read under, and don’t forget to bring a sandwich.